Ask Anything
October 13, 2009 8:38 AM   Subscribe

My church is thinking about hosting a Q and A session on Christianity. We are hoping to figure out a way to let people text message questions in. 1) What's a low-cost solution for text messaging in questions, and 2) if you were there, what kind of questions might you ask? (so we can be prepared!)
posted by kraigory to Technology (42 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Twitter seems the obvious choice. Works from phones, computers, etc.

As for questions, why does the old covenant trump the new one?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:43 AM on October 13, 2009

Are you expecting the audience to be Christians looking for deeper/greater knowledge, or non-Christians curious about your faith? Or both?
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:48 AM on October 13, 2009

I would have one phone advertised to send text messages and a reader who will vet and read questions at the microphone (or in front of the group). So, you will advertise the number making sure it's a phone you'll be ok with prank texts on, like that of the youth pastor. You should mention that it's ok to be anonymous and people at the event are even welcome to phone in a question if they do not want to stand up. You could call the the event From Anonymous to Christ.
posted by parmanparman at 8:48 AM on October 13, 2009

Any particular flavor of Christianity?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:49 AM on October 13, 2009

Response by poster: To Tomorrowful- a little of both. It would be a community event, hopefully in a community location outside of the church. We hope many non-christians curious about our faith would come for just a non-threatening informational meeting, not some sort of evangelistic campaign. But, I'm sure church members and people from other churches would attend as well.
posted by kraigory at 8:50 AM on October 13, 2009

Here's a question I would ask: What parts of the Bible can be safely ignored without risking eternal damnation, and who decides which parts? For example, the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy instruct people to not consume swine, but around here in Georgia, it's hard not to find a rack of ribs at a church BBQ. How do modern Christians reconcile that disconnect between Scripture and the modern practice of Christianity?
posted by deadmessenger at 8:51 AM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: @chesty_a_arthur: An evangelical, protestant, (mostly) conservative flavor of Christianity.
posted by kraigory at 8:52 AM on October 13, 2009

Ditto deadmessenger's question.

Also, it seems pretty sadistic to me that God would send his only begotten "son" to suffer and die for our sins......if he is all powerful, why not absolve mankind with a wave of his hand?

Do Christians really, honestly believe that billions of honest, law-abiding, kind people go straight to hell *just* because they are Jewish/Muslim/etc. and not Christian??
Is eternal punishment really the plan of the all-merciful God?

This one is personal and I doubt would be asked in your setting, but I have asked Christians before what happens to people in remote villages who never heard of Jesus. They said that they basically get a "get out of jail free" card; it is only after you hear of Jesus's message and reject it that you go to jail. But that's why they have go out and spread the message. My question: wouldn't they be better off if the missionary never showed up? They could have had 100% chance to go to heaven, and now that could all be taken away just b/c a missionary - who is a total stranger which they should have no reason to trust - showed up on their doorstep.

And What happened to people who died before Jesus came along?
posted by texas_blissful at 9:06 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pick up a couple pay-as-you go phones to pass around or have available after servies a few weeks before the event to send texts, or have an old laptop that could
be placed where people coud type in questions.

There are a few ways to do the laptop idea, depending on if your church has internet access. You could install a trial version of Filemaker and make a small database with a question field, and a 'next' button to go to the next question. A small website with a form page could also be built cheaply and added to your church's website.

The phones could be useful afterwards. If someone comes to your church with a personal issue, it could be lent to them as a private line to your priest if there is a need to be discreet. (ex. Spousal abuse, 'moments of weakness' when dealing with addiction, etc.)
posted by chambers at 9:11 AM on October 13, 2009

I good point to address is when should the bible be taken literally, like 'love thy neighbor,' or when it should be seen as a parable involving the customs of the times that it was written(when slavery was commonplace and socially acceptable)? I understand that most denomonations see the rules set down in the old testament are voided with the new testament and the resurrection, but rarely is that made clear to the congregation directly.
posted by chambers at 9:20 AM on October 13, 2009

I think what you're doing is an awesome idea....I think I'll bring it up to my pastor to see if we could do the same thing in our area. I wish it were appropriate to answer a few of the questions posted on this thread, but that would be off topic.

Depending on how large a crowd you get, I would be prepared to have some pretty hard-hitting questions asked, and possibly some very angry non-christians being very vocal about their disbelief.

You need someone EXTREMELY knowledgeable on the bible/ the typical answer of "I don't know the answer offhand but I will find out for you" is kinda a cop-out in a situation like this. If it has to be done then so-be-it....but you're gonna have 15 trying to jump in with their interpretations. Just be ready is all I'm saying.
posted by AltReality at 9:24 AM on October 13, 2009

I would be surprised if you didn't get some questions regarding the role of women in daily life and within the context of the church in particular. Many passages even in the new testament speak about how women need to remain subservient, cover their heads, remain silent while in worship service, but very very few denomination actually practice that. How is that reconciled, the text and the practices?
posted by hippybear at 9:25 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

2) if you were there, what kind of questions might you ask? (so we can be prepared!)

this will end well, on a site where the only 100k atheists in the USA gather

I would ask this: why do religious people feel they have to prescribe how other people lead their lives?

I'm talking about: mostly sexual rules (no sex before marriage, no gay sex, no adulterous sex - no, make that: no adulterous thoughts!), rules about food (no pork, no dairy with meat), some financial rules (tithing), rules about abortion and euthanasia, rules about the publishing industry (no porn) etc. Seemingly, it is not enough to live by some set of arbitrary rules, no: other people must also abide by them. Why? Can't you just choose not to have sex before marriage? Not to buy porn or alcohol? And leave other adults free to make their choices?

Related: why do religions feel the need to have worldly power and with that, worldly tribunals? The Catholic Church had a very clear agenda in the first centuries of its existence: to wield political power over the then Emperors of the Frankish reich (which is why Popes crowned and balmed emperors, and incidentally, which is why Bonaparte snatched the crown out of the hands of then pope Pius VII in 1804 and crowned himself). In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church made religion mandatory in most parts of Europe (Inquisition). In some Muslim countries, law is still spoken based on religious texts. Why this need to mix religion and law, law being the so called "monopoly of violence" in the social contract? Why the need of religion to have a monopoly over violence?

And a last one: how can you justify the obvious cherry picking of rules from the Bible/Quran/whatever religious tome. In reference to the tribunals, doesn't God at some point say: Judge not? He explicitly says not to judge, and there the three monotheistic religions (mostly) go judging people (gays, single moms, people who euthanise themselves...).
posted by NekulturnY at 9:31 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a followup to mine and Texas_Blissful's example questions - I just want to clarify that I think it's a very, very good thing that you're doing, and I hope the tone of my example question didn't seem like I was trying to be an ass here. My question is intended to illustrate the fact that you need to be prepared to answer not only the softball questions from people who already believe, but also the difficult questions from people who might not, or people who might be questioning their religious beliefs.

I'm speaking from personal experience here: The fact that I could never get questions like that answered in a clear, sensible way is the reason I am no longer a Christian.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:32 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is kind of a long list, but it is given in complete seriousness. Many of these questions are why I turned away from "an evangelical, protestant, (mostly) conservative flavor of Christianity" and eventually became an atheist, albeit one that still finds certain religious rituals comforting.

Arguably the need to keep kosher was obviated by Acts 10:9-16. Nonetheless, what about the rest of the Old Testament law?

Specifically, Judaism holds that non-Jews are not bound by the Ten Commandments or the rest of the Old Testament law but rather by the Seven Laws of Noah. (The differences are primarily that the Seven Laws do not include the prohibitions against covetousness and false witness or the requirements of remembering the Sabbath or honoring ones parents.) So if Christians are not Jews, why are they bound by anything in the Old Testament apart from the Seven Laws that apply to all non-Jews? If they are bound by parts of the law, what parts and why? Why not all of it except for those parts specifically repealed by the New Testament (e.g., keeping kosher)?

The only parts of the New Testament that actually purport to be the Word of God are the parts of the Gospels attributed to Jesus, certain visions recounted elsewhere, and large parts of the Revelation. Why should most of the epistles be regarded as the Word of God when they are clearly just letters written by mortal men to specific churches addressing issues specific to that church at that time and in that culture? Sure, one might be able to use them as an instructive case study when confronted by similar problems, but why believe that it's the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God when it makes no claim to be and in fact claims otherwise?

More generally, why accept the biblical canon at all? The canon, after all, was assembled by what amounts to the early Catholic/Orthodox church. Why believe that those men got the canon right yet were wrong on so much else (e.g., saints, transubstantiation, etc)? As a conservative, evangelical, Protestant, why do you only reject certain parts of the early church teachings?

And if the entirety of the New Testament truly is inerrant, infallible, and inspired, why do you not follow the example of Acts 2 and Acts 4 and require that your members sell their possessions and good, give to anyone in need, and hold everything in common? Why do you embrace capitalism when it is clearly contrary to scripture?

Where in the Bible is abortion actually prohibited or described as murder? Abortion was known to and practiced by the Greeks and Romans of Jesus' era, so why did he not speak out about it? And omniscient as he was, why did he not speak out against what would become, as many evangelicals believe, an ongoing mass slaughter far worse than any war or plague? Could it be that Christ, as a Jew, did not believe that fetuses were people? If so, from where do you derive your belief that abortion should be prohibited?

Do miracles still occur? What kinds? Do you accept the miracles attributed to Catholic or Orthodox saints? Why or why not?
posted by jedicus at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here are some questions I'd have that I (as a non-Christian) always wanted a good, thorough answer to. (on preview: hey look! Mine are similar to jedicus'!)

These are coming from a more "interfaith" and less "atheist" origin, I guess; if I were going to your event, I'd be trying to learn about Christianity on its own terms to try and understand what the deal is, rather than understand why I should be Christian (which ain't gonna happen) or asking Christianity to answer for its moral failings (recipe for disaster). I'm not sure which kind of questions you'll get, but this is one possibility.

1. Where does Paul get his spiritual authority? It makes sense that people pay attention to the Gospels because they are reports of the word of Jesus. But then there are all those epistles, which Jesus didn't write, which don't just resort to telling you what he said, and which seem to be at odds (particularly with regards to Jewish observance) with Jesus's personal actions as reported by the gospels. So why should people listen to them?

2. What's the deal with the holy ghost?

3. (this is already sort of covered by others' questions) to what extent does the Old Testament inform Christianity? Clearly Christians have rejected the need for Jewish ritual observance and circumcision, but the ten commandments are pretty big.

4. Could I be a good Christian and never go to church? What role does the community play in Christianity, as opposed to the individual?
posted by goingonit at 9:51 AM on October 13, 2009

I'm an extremely reluctant atheist, myself. Well-considered answers to difficult questions may abound, but I've succeeded in missing them. How come God sent his only begotten son because he so loved the world... then kept it a giant secret? There are no contemporaneous accounts of Jesus's life, the Gospels all were written sometime between 60 and 110 AD. Apparently, only about a dozen people saw the light at the time. Why hide it under a bushel?

Also, how to react to all these different religions lying around out there? Surely when a Muslim or Hindu or animist prays, he isn't secretly thinking that he's deluding himself; he thinks it's every bit as true as Christians do. So why isn't religion a manifestation of a universal psychological need, rather than a universal truth?
posted by ibmcginty at 9:52 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

The question that's always got me:

Did Noah take additional animals on his ark to feed the higher order predators in the food chain, or did everyone go hungry while he was at sea?
posted by MuffinMan at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Google Voice would be great for this. If you have a Google Voice account, just pay the 10 bucks to switch your number and get something like (731) GOD TALK.
posted by nomad at 9:56 AM on October 13, 2009

and possibly some very angry non-christians being very vocal about their disbelief.

I've participated in a couple Q&A sections like the one described, both as a Christian and now as an atheist, and I doubt that any atheists or agnostics who show up will do so with an angry heart. Even at one session I attended at a technical college (known for it's snarkiness and dismissiveness towards "woo"), everyone was very respectful and polite.

If the organizers are worried about arguments breaking out among the audience, they should set up a "submitted questions" format, where the questions are written on pieces of paper hand handed to an usher in the aisle to read at a microphone. It's not a format I personally enjoy but it tends to keep questions and answers on-topic, and would prevent a person from monopolizing the whole conversation.
posted by muddgirl at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2009

Additionally, I think the organizers need to decide whether this is supposed to be sort of a lesson in general Christian theory targeted towards atheists, or an introduction to your church's specific philosophy targeted towards Christians who are looking for a new church. The second one is much, much easier than the first.
posted by muddgirl at 9:59 AM on October 13, 2009

You might find this project interesting -- it's designed to pose questions for reflection for the Jewish Day of Atonement.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:04 AM on October 13, 2009

Here's a few questions:

  • When knowledge and fact conflict with faith, how does the intelligent mind choose?

  • If the source of all truth is the Bible, how can one reconcile its internal conflicts?

  • If the Bible is the revealed word of God, why isn't there new revelation and why is that not incorporated formally?>/li>
  • If all other faiths were/are false, what separates yours?

  • And my personal favorite,
  • Why doesn't God heal amputees?

  • Good luck with your session. I would not attend, and unless you are sporting a true genius in the panel answering these questions, I am betting that the net effect will be fewer adherents, not more. You are a brave, if perhaps optimistic chap.
    posted by FauxScot at 10:08 AM on October 13, 2009

    Response by poster: Everyone: Thank you for the excellent questions. I wish I had the time and resources to attempt to answer all of your questions, but as stated, that would be off topic.

    Just to clarify a bit: This will be a panel-based situation. Probably 5-6 panel members, including pastors and biblical scholars. I am assuming most people have a cell phone with texting, so I'm not too worried about passing out phones or anything. We are also including an email address in the promotional materials so people can email questions in advance. Also, there will be a moderating team that will screen questions received, so we can eliminate "stump the pastor" or just irrelevant questions. We think this will provide a much more productive atmosphere than an open mic, where people tend to ramble, or just be rude.

    Again, thanks for the outstanding questions. We understand this is quite an endeavor, and we're not presuming to be able to answer every question ever, we just want to be transparent to the community and try to shed some light on questions that people have.

    The google talk idea sounds like a good one. Any ideas on where you can get a 5-char shorthand text code?
    posted by kraigory at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2009

    Christians may believe non-Christians will go to hell, but what do Christians believe about followers of different branches of Christianity? For example, do Episcopalians believe Baptists will go to hell, and vice-versa? If not, why do so many variants of Christianity exist?

    Assuming one doesn't accept that god's actions are beyond our comprehension, why do bad things happen to good people, like Job in the book of Job?
    posted by Mike1024 at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2009

    Response by poster: Also, I'd like to clarify due to FauxScot's comment- this is not an evangelistic type of thing, or us trying to gain church members or convert people. Obviously we would love it if that happened, but we see that there are tons of misconceptions about the church and christianity in general, and we would like to be transparent and real with the community, and let them know what we are all about, for better or for worse.

    I definitely appreciate the feedback and the tough questions! It is a great help. Keep 'em coming!
    posted by kraigory at 10:26 AM on October 13, 2009

    1. I think you should consider expanding this to e-mail as well as texts.

    2. I'd be interested in hearing questions aimed at "What relationship does your church want to have with its community, including non-believers and other faith groups?" or "Does your church interact with outsiders on a regular basis--either through community service or in partnership with community organizations in support of some third party need?"--basically, I don't think you'll do much good rehashing who goes to hell or why you wear blended fabrics but oppose gay marriage, but I think that there's room for real communication if your church is willing to be a resource to the community.

    Also, you might think about looking up demographic information about your town/community: statistically speaking, how likely is it that you'll end up speaking to non-Christians rather than non-Evangelicals? And be careful when you talk about "Christians believe..." because the Lutheran-raised, now agnostic audience member will know you don't speak for his Christian parents, and the Catholic audience member will know you don't speak for her Christianity.
    posted by Meg_Murry at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2009

    Why did God create evil? There's an argument that God couldn't create good without evil as a contrast, or couldn't create freedom without evil as a possibility, but God is omnipotent so surely he could have?
    posted by Mike1024 at 10:49 AM on October 13, 2009

    * Isn't it more than a little convenient that all the Egyptian witnesses to the parting of the Red Sea drowned, and were unable to return to tell Pharoah?
    posted by gensubuser at 10:55 AM on October 13, 2009

    If God is benevolent and omnipotent, why do good people suffer?

    If God is benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient, what is the point of petitionary prayer?
    posted by downing street memo at 11:13 AM on October 13, 2009

    I haven't time to share a lot of questions, but Mike1024's question about the problem of evil could burn a few hours, easy.

    The five-number code you want is called a short code. In the United States, they are administered by the Common Short Code Administration, which has a page on getting one here. It looks like a randomly-assigned one costs $500/month, but I haven't looked into it more deeply to see if discounts are available (you're a nonprofit, you only need it for a short time, you aren't particularly attached to a given number or to keeping that number--you've got some material to work with here). Good luck.
    posted by tellumo at 11:16 AM on October 13, 2009

    Also, I'll assume (perhaps unfairly) that your congregation is politically conservative as well as religiously conservative, and ask these:

    1) The consensus view of jus ad bellum seems to be that war is permissible only to correct "grave, public evil[s]" - aggression, or violation of the basic human rights of entire populations. Do the teachings of your church concur with this, and, if so, why not?

    2) Do you have an American flag on the altar of your church? If so, why? More broadly, what is the proper relationship between religious institutions and the state? Is patriotism a virtue?

    3) What is the teaching of this church on environmental concerns?
    posted by downing street memo at 11:27 AM on October 13, 2009

    When you're dealing with twitter, please be aware that if you publish the hashtag in advance, people with dubious senses of humor may ask intentionally annoying questions or put either linkspam or link-shortened references to the internet panoply of delights (goatse, /b/, &c.) in questions that will appear publicly associated with your hashtags.

    In general, this is just a risk of using the internet, but it might be a concern for your audience.

    (largely in reference to the recommendation for twitter above.)
    posted by corprew at 11:33 AM on October 13, 2009

    If God is all-wise, what was he smoking when he put the human reproductive system right next door to the excretory system? That's just bad engineering.
    posted by BostonTerrier at 12:14 PM on October 13, 2009

    kraigory, you are the one that started the thread, the topic is pretty much yours to do with as you please....Mods, correct me if I'm wrong, but if he wanted to answer some questions in this thread, he would be "within his rights" as it were.....right? :)
    posted by AltReality at 12:28 PM on October 13, 2009

    Response by poster: In response to AltReality- I would love to open this up to some answers of some form, from myself and others. I don't have a ton of time, but I will try to give some cursory thoughts sometime tonight.
    posted by kraigory at 12:47 PM on October 13, 2009

    What are the merits and flaws of various bible translations, and how/why does your Church choose its preferred one(s)?
    posted by Salamandrous at 1:07 PM on October 13, 2009

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

    3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

    4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

    7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle- room here?

    8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

    9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
    posted by grateful at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2009 [29 favorites]

    Why are there so many well-respected Christians who have so much money? And even worse, why do many popular "Christian" pastors and preachers earn so much personal wealth from their ministry?
    posted by muddgirl at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2009

    grateful, you could at least mention that those questions have been floating around the internet and watercoolers for probably half a century.
    posted by Netzapper at 2:13 PM on October 13, 2009

    Yes, yes, of course. I figured most people would recognize them from their youth.
    posted by grateful at 2:23 PM on October 13, 2009

    A thought--if you want to weed out "stump the pastor" questions or issues like theodicy that are too big for a single panel discussion without seeming disingenuous (and it is a little disingenuous to invite questions but refuse to engage with those types of common questions/complaints), you could think about introducing a blog with contributors from your church--a blog format would allow for longer, more thoughtful responses with links to source material as well as to differing or opposition positions and interpretations.
    posted by Meg_Murry at 6:55 PM on October 13, 2009

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